Thomas Graham Jr. Is Well Set to Compete for a Starting Job Opposite Jaylon Johnson in 2022

Social Navigation


Thomas Graham Jr. Is Well Set to Compete for a Starting Job Opposite Jaylon Johnson in 2022

Chicago Bears

After opting out of his final season at Oregon due to COVID-19 concerns, Thomas Graham Jr. struggled in training camp and began his rookie season on the Bears’ practice squad (even though the Bears lacked any real starting corners behind Jaylon Johnson). But as Graham told reporters just after his NFL debut, that time on the practice squad allowed him to be ready when his number was called in Week 15 against the Minnesota Vikings.

“[I] needed the time in general just to help me get back in the flow of things. It took some time for me to regain my confidence, and I’ll say after the bye week is when it really started to come back, and I started to feel like who I thought I was.”

Now, with plenty of time spent regaining his confidence in his game on the practice squad and a few NFL games under his belt, the one-time Oregon Duck has a chance to compete for a starting job opposite Jaylon Johnson in 2022.

 

As it stands, Jaylon Johnson*, Thomas Graham Jr., Duke Shelley, and Kindle Vildor are the only cornerbacks guaranteed to be in camp this summer; Artie Burns, Xavier Crawford, and Teez Tabor are free agents this offseason (restricted or otherwise). Moreover, opposing quarterbacks posted a league-high 103.3 passer rating and 29 touchdowns (30th) against the Bears in 2021. So I’d say “underwhelming” would probably be a generous description of the group at the moment.

*Johnson slid into the top cornerback spot in 2021, his second season in the NFL, after Kyle Fuller became a cap casualty for Chicago. But while he began the season playing like a true CB1, Johnson finished with a 64.2 PFF grade (No. 50 among all cornerbacks). He’s likely to start training camp as the team’s No. 1 corner, but everything is up for grabs, especially with a new coaching staff in place.

Putting that all another way: There are starting jobs up for grabs in this unit, and Thomas Graham Jr. seems primed to take one.

Despite playing just 112 snaps in 2021, Graham made the most of his time on the field, posting a stellar 90.6 coverage grade and 84.5 overall grade over at Pro Football Focus. And if you choose to ignore the minimum snap threshold, just for the sake of experimenting, Graham’s coverage rating is tops in the NFL.

Even assuming he won’t remain at the top of the pile with a full season’s worth of snaps under his belt, Graham is in particularly good hands to take a (sustainable) step forward this year.

If you watched any of the in-season version of HBO’s Hard Knocks with the Indianapolis Colts this season, you would have gotten a glimpse into the way that Matt Eberflus and his staff handled their defense. One of the players highlighted in the HBO series was cornerback Kenny Moore. An undrafted free-agent turned Pro Bowler this season, Moore logged 102 tackles, four interceptions, a forced fumble, and a sack in his fifth season with the Colts. This season, Moore was PFF’s 27th ranked cornerback with a 66.6 defensive rating. The former Valdosta State Blazer has seen his play rise to a new level every season under Matt Eberflus in Indianapolis.

Eberflus brought defensive backs coach Alan Williams from Indianapolis to serve as his defensive coordinator in Chicago. Williams has been working with defensive backs in the NFL in one capacity or another for the last twenty-plus years, and he said to the media last week during his introductory press conference at Halas Hall that helping guys find their ceiling like Williams and Matt Eberflus helped Kenny Moore in Indianapolis, will be one of his focuses.

Eberflus’ and Williams’ success stories with developing defensive backs don’t end with Kenny Moore. Most of Indianapolis’ secondary is a product of good coaching under that staff. Isaiah Rodgers was taken in the sixth round of the NFL Draft in 2020 out of U-Mass, and he finished the 2021 season as PFF’s 24th ranked cornerback, four spots ahead of teammate Rock Ya-Sin (No. 28) and three spots ahead of Pro Bowl Colts cornerback, Kenny Moore. Colts safety George Odum signed with the team as an undrafted free agent in 2018, and he wrapped up the 2021 season as PFF’s 50th ranked safety with 49 tackles, an interception, and a fumble in seven starts this season.

With his footing and some NFL experience under his belt, an entire offseason and training camp in his future, and a new coaching staff with a track record of developing defensive backs, Thomas Graham Jr. should be feeling good about the opportunity before him with Chicago next season. There’s a strong chance that he’ll find himself in the starting lineup in Week 1 if he can pick up where he left off at the end of this past season.


Latest from Bleacher Nation:


Author: Patrick K. Flowers

Patrick is the Lead NFL Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @PatrickKFlowers.